Critical Issues in Early Childhood Education

By Nicola Yelland | Go to book overview

4

How 'bad' can it be?:
Troubling gender, sexuality, and
early childhood teaching

Mindy Blaise and Yarrow Andrew

Mindy: The aim of this chapter is to tell how Yarrow, a male preschool teacher in an Australian rural community child care centre and I, a female early childhood teacher educator practicing in the United States at a large research university, used queer theory and feminist poststructuralism to challenge gender and sexuality in our teach- ing practices. The field of early childhood tends to avoid examining gender in a critical way and its relationship to teaching, learning, and identities. Instead we convey a simple and unproblematic notion of children's 'gender role development'. Therefore, we decided to conceptualize a wider project of analyzing the complexities of teaching and learning, taking into account the genderedness of children and teachers. When enacting pedagogies intended to confront and disrupt gender inequities in our classrooms, we took up Tobin's challenge of 'queering up both traditional and progressive notions of gender identity and sexuality' (1997, p. 31). During this col- laborative project, we critically analyzed our 'good' and 'bad' teaching actions, and in doing so were building on the work of Ryan et al. (2001) by attempting to provide new, provocative, and some might argue, more complex images of early childhood teaching for our students.

Our work together is about the ways in which we have been 'bad' teachers, who rejected the notion that developmentalism and developmentally appropriate practices provide us with what we need to know in order to interact with young children. Instead, we believe that gender is a critical factor in what we do, and we make it the center of our practice. Not only did we use queer theory and feminist poststructural- ism to critically examine 'safe' and developmentally appropriate practices to confront our fears of moving beyond the fictional image of the 'good' early childhood teacher, but these alternative perspectives also informed us about the ways in which Yarrow and I conceptualized sexuality and gender. For example, instead of seeing young children as asexual, innocent bundles of joy, who unproblematically move through a set of predetermined developmental stages, we believe that children are sexual, and capable of finding pleasure through their gendered selves. For us, gender is understood as a social, political, and cultural construction in which children take an active part (Davies, 2003). We believe that the social construction of gender and sexuality is not

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